Changes considered for Neighborhood Council program

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The Neighborhood Council program was established in the early 1990s as a method of getting residents more involved in civic affairs and to serve in an advisory role to the elected leaders at city hall. Tacoma Municipal Code requires a review of the program every five years. Carol Wolfe, an employee of the Community and Economic Development Department who coordinates the program, gave Tacoma City Council an update on the process during the Dec. 4 study session. Wolfe began by noting the program’s ability to provide a pathway for local elected leaders. Numerous people have moved on from their Neighborhood Council to an elected seat on Tacoma City Council, Tacoma School Board and Metro Parks Board. City staff has been reviewing the program in 2017 and 2018. They have made a number of recommendations, which will be brought to the council for a vote next April. Each council, as well as the Community Council of Tacoma, the umbrella organization, provided suggestions in their annual reports at the end of 2017. An online survey in February and March of this year generated feedback as well. Interviews were done with staff from several city departments, as well as with liaisons from other local governments who en
gage with the councils. Each council drafts its own bylaws and maintains a certain level of independence. As a result, there are some inconsistencies from one council to the next, including the requirements to be a board member and eligibility to vote on matters at hand. Wolfe said there are unrealistic expectations on the board members with a limited amount of staff support from the city. Councilmember Chris Beale mentioned his three years serving on South Tacoma Neighborhood Council. He said term limits for board members warrants consideration, although he is not sure it would solve all engagement issues any one council may experience. Beale said the size of the nine districts may be too large. He suggested splitting them into four sub districts each. “I think there are a lot of options.” Councilmember Keith Blocker mentioned concerns about the bylaws of Central Neighborhood Council leads to confusion over who is eligible to vote at the meetings. Councilmember Lillian Hunter said board members of all nine councils should be required to receive training on the city’s equity policies. There was also discussion about changing the boundaries of the nine districts. Councilmember Ryan Mello suggested it would be better to address this in 2020, when the city does a required adjustment to the boundaries of the five City Council districts.

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